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I was hiding in the bathroom from him because it was the only room with a locking door. I was sitting on the toilet while I cried and stared at the hole he had punched in the wall days earlier -- a punch thrown directly beside my head. I remembered that instead of being terrified of how out-of-control he was, I was grateful he was in control enough to punch the wall instead of me.
Through the door he called me a c**t. He called me a c**t because he knew it is the word I find most offensive of all. I filled a glass with water, opened the door, and threw the water in his face. You could call this “instigating.” You could call this “the role I played in the incident.” But I was enraged and it’s all I could think to do to express it.
The next thing I knew I was shoved up against a wall and his enormous hand was around my throat. My toes were barely touching the carpet. He had eight inches of height on me. I don’t know how much weight he had on me, because he always told me I was getting too fat and I didn’t like to think about my weight.
What I was thinking was which scarf would be the best to cover up the bruises he would leave on my neck.
I don’t know what made him stop, but I think it was because I was begging and telling him that my best friend would be arriving at any moment -- fear of being caught, fear of a “private moment” becoming public.
When she arrived, I was crying. Again. Still. Whatever. When was the last time I wasn’t crying?
But it wasn’t because I was scared or upset about the fight. I was crying because I was so despondent and ashamed that I had let it come to this. I didn’t think I was the type of woman who would let a man put his hands on her. I thought I was stronger than that. I thought I would have fought back. I thought I would have called the cops, kicked his ass to the curb, shouted through a megaphone what a prize piece of s**t this guy was. I didn’t do any of that.
Over the next weeks, that humiliation forced me into a huddled crying mass on the floor many times until I finally got onto antidepressants, and eventually got him to move out.
I told my friend we’d had a fight, and we went to see some movie I can’t even remember.
Even if you know me, you probably don’t know this about me, because this is a story I’ve told to only a handful of people. I withheld it because of the shame. I withheld it because I was raised not to say bad things about people. People might think less of him if they knew. (Yes, the internalized politeness that affects so many women can extend to an abusive boyfriend.) But I also thought people might think less of me for saying bad things about a person, even if they were true.
I withheld it because I was able to get out before anything worse happened, and I guess I didn’t think it was a story worth telling when so many women have faced so much worse. And I withheld it because I thought some people would probably think I deserved it, just a little, because he’s such a chill guy who wouldn’t do something like that unless I really pushed him.
I am telling this story now because the resurgence of attention to the incident wherein now-former Ravens running back Ray Rice punched his then-fiancee Janay Palmer so hard she lost consciousness. No, this isn’t the first incident of high-profile domestic violence associated with the NFL. But it’s the first one that has called my attention in an unavoidable way.
See, I’m a Ravens fan. I mean, I guess I was a Ravens fan. I’ve been a Ravens fan for the last seven or so years, and a football fan for longer. Perhaps fittingly, it was the boyfriend who got violent with me who got me into the NFL. We used to root together for the Steelers every Sunday. After we broke up, it didn’t take long for me to want to forget that fandom. But I still loved the game and I had recently moved into Baltimore city, so I was reborn as a Ravens fan.
I have Ravens floor mats in my car. There is a Flacco jersey hanging in my closet, and I have several cute purple tops that I rotate through for my office’s participation in Purple Fridays. I’ve been to two games in person. My fiancé and I yelled and gasped and clutched each other through the tense quarters Super Bowl XLVII.
Last spring, I toured the stadium with my father and we had our pictures taken in the locker room and on the 50-yard line. I didn’t just watch them play. I was a fan. And as a fan and someone who has experienced domestic violence, I have been following this case from the beginning. All along, I’ve been tentatively withholding judgment, taking a wait-and-see mentality to whether I’d actually follow through with a boycott. I wanted to walk away, but I didn’t feel like I could quite justify it to my fellow fans.
But now that TMZ released the newest video of the Rice incident and I’m seeing the reactions, everything has changed. I am sick to death of reading people defend Ray Rice, the Ravens, and the NFL -- or worse, chastise them for doing “too much.” I am sick to death of hearing people say “But she didn’t press charges” and “But she married him.” I am sick of people convinced that this was a one-time incident.
As if being psychologically capable of punching a woman in the face hard enough to knock her unconscious can possibly be anything close to an isolated incident, instead of one point on an escalating line. As if being drunk is an excuse. If you’ve ever been drunk you know that it lowers your inhibitions, giving you the mental wherewithal to say and do the things you’ve only been secretly fantasizing about. Being drunk doesn’t make you a different person; it magnifies what’s already inside of you.
Every time I read someone defending any of the horrible decisions that have been made throughout this case, or talking about the part Janay played in any of it as if she were acting and speaking of her own free, unintimidated will, I feel like I’m back up against that wall with a hand on my throat. My experience is only a shadow compared to what other women have gone through and my empathy is brimming. But so is my anger and pain.
I firmly believe that the NFL and representatives from the Ravens saw the video before TMZ released it. But that doesn’t even matter. It’s not the point. We all saw the video of Rice’s callous disregard for his partner’s unconscious body. But THAT doesn’t even matter. We knew what happened. I don’t care if she called his mother a whore and told him his dick was inside out. I don’t care if she spit on him. I don’t even care if she hit him. I am disgusted by these “wait for the evidence” trolls who contemplated elaborate scenarios wherein he drunkenly teetered into her and the elevator door knocked her unconscious, and still, even now with the evidence in plain sight, assert that their skepticism puts them on the right side of history because "how could we have known."
A man who is demanded to be in peak physical condition punched a woman in her face so hard that she lost consciousness. And most people weren’t horrified by this until they literally saw it with their own eyes.
The thing with domestic abuse is that people don’t get to see it with their own eyes because it happens in "the privacy of the home." You definitely won’t see it; it's a secret. And you know what? You probably won’t hear about it because of fear and humiliation faced by victims, who are attacked over and over again in their own minds whenever they feel obligated to silence.
So as a Ravens fan and as a survivor, now it’s time for me to be vocal about my opinion.
I am first and foremost angry that not only is Rice not in jail -- he never even went to trial. I am angered that the existence of this video was obfuscated. I am angered that celebrities and the rich are protected classes in our justice system.
I’m done with the NFL for their too little too late policies and their godawful excuse for an investigation. (And for so many reasons unrelated to this case specifically.) I'm done with the lies and the pandering to calm down an outraged public. (Update as of September 11: I am heartened that there is an official investigation underway, and I await its results on tenterhooks.)
And I’m done with the Ravens -- seven years or no. I’m done with them for the same reasons, and also particularly for Harbaugh’s comments that he hopes the couple can “make it work,” with its implication that an abused woman is party to her abuse, and that staying with an abuser is a good and right thing to do. Harbaugh always framed the discussion in terms of “they” and never in terms of “he.” Most of all, I’m furious no one in the Ravens organization ever made Ray Rice apologize to Janay Rice in public or express regret at anything other than getting caught and punished.
None of this matters, of course, because no one in the NFL or the Ravens is going to notice my absence from their legion of fans. I’m not going to affect anything. The games are still going to be on in my household. It doesn’t matter because no one in the NFL actually cares about women, unless we are buying up their pink jerseys and keeping their male demographic happy.
I just returned from the supermarket where I saw Ravens logos on everything from flags to chips to cakes. I’ve seen two women today wearing purple Ravens shirts, one of them in my office. I just want to yell, “Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?” The logo is everywhere, and now it feels not only pervasive, but insidious. I can’t dissociate that logo from what happened to me.
It serves as a brand to show membership in this giant machine, a machine that steamrolls everything in its path with a very clear message that “If you are not a part of us, you will be alone.”
It hurts to feel like you don’t matter, just like it hurts to feel your back against that wall, with that hand around your throat. But for some, perhaps many, the fear of being alone against something so big is the greater of two evils.
I’m here to say that you are not alone. You can walk away from a man or you can walk away from a cultural behemoth, and you will not be alone.
Reprinted with permission from Stuff Your Eyes With Wonder.